Heuston Railway Station, one of the state’s largest transport hubs, presents an impressive facade with its original 1840s building modeled on the design of an Italian palazzo. However, behind this elegant exterior lies several acres of unused and inaccessible space, dominated by surface car parks, storage sheds and maintenance yards, right next to what should be, but has no connection to, the area’s greatest asset: the River Liffey.
Dublin City Council has long sought to create a residential area around Heuston to provide a gateway to the city and define the western end of the city as a counterbalance to the port areas at the eastern end of the Liffey. But while almost all Docklands sites are developed, several sites around Heuston remain empty and some are derelict.
Completed developments are separated and isolated from each other and from the station. Clancy Barracks on Island Bridge, home to more than 800 homes built in the last decade, and other nearby developments such as Heuston South Quarter are close to the railway platforms but accessible by busy roads and the hinterland of the station cut off.
Two years ago, the state transport company CIÉ published the Heuston Masterplan to finally address these problems. It envisaged new access points to the station from the west at Clancy Quay, to the south from St John’s Road and, most strikingly, from the north, with new bridges over the Liffey.
There will also be cycle and pedestrian paths along the riverbank, all designed to open up the station not only to commuters and surrounding residents, but also to the new population, with 1,000 apartments planned for the station site.
“If we look at CIÉ’s property portfolio, Heuston Station would be the jewel in the crown,” says Lorcan O’Connor, managing director of the parastatal transport company.
“It’s the main intercity train station, Luas is there, a few BusConnects corridors pass by. As far as amenities go, you have Phoenix Park right on your doorstep, the river, and it’s also just right for your 15 minute city as you can cycle to virtually anywhere in the city within 15 minutes .” However, access is restricted.
If done right, you can have quality accommodation close to amenities that justify higher density than normal
— Lorcan O’Connor, CEO of CIÉ
“One of its weaknesses is that it has a single access point, it is effectively a dead end. So if you’re coming from Phoenix Park or live in Clancy Quay, you’ll be right next to the platform in flight, but if you want to walk you’ll have to walk a very long way to the front of Heuston to get back on – that Same if you’re from Kilmainham,” says O’Connor.
The station’s development areas are also hampered by this single access point, a narrow road along the river that currently serves as access to the station’s car park and the factory buildings and yards to the west of the platforms, where the majority of the new development will lie.
There will be a mix of uses, with some office, retail and hotel uses at the main station end of the site, “but the bulk would be residential,” says O’Connor, focusing on development at the western end near Clancy Quay.
The nature of the location requires a high building density, but for the most part no high-rise buildings. While the height of each block will be determined in later planning stages, the masterplan calls for a predominant height of six storeys with a taller landmark building at the eastern end of the site.
“If done right, you can have quality housing close to amenities that justify higher density than you typically see. “That doesn’t mean the quality is worse,” says O’Connor. The development would also be “car-free”, he says, “which is a key feature for us”.
However, in order to make all of this feasible, the permeability of the site must be increased.
“We would envisage a cycle and pedestrian path along the Liffey, from the front of Heuston through the Clancy Quay development and then on to the War Memorial Gardens,” he says.
While this provides the east-west connection, the north-south crossing of the river requires bridges. The most impressive of these is a proposed pedestrian and cycle bridge from the entrance to Phoenix Park next to the Conyngham Road bus garage across the river to the station platforms and then on across St John’s Road. This would connect Heuston South Quarter, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the wider Kilmainham area not only to the station but all the way to Phoenix Park.
A further Liffey pedestrian and cycle bridge from Conyngham Road, where the Phoenix Park tunnel line enters the station, will provide access to the western end of the site and a planned new Dart station.
The Conyngham Road bus garage is expected to house at least a quarter of the 1,000 homes. This is one of several bus workshops in Dublin that CIÉ has long been under pressure to abandon for housing, and it appears it will be the first to move, although this could take up to five years, says O’Connor.
It makes sense that this is the start of your city center proper, all the way to the Docklands at the other end of the Liffey
— Lorcan O’Connor, CEO of CIÉ
The garage is not the only property CIÉ owns on Conyngham Road. A row of Victorian houses running east from the garage entrance are in complete disrepair. “They need to be corrected,” O’Connor admits.
That could mean its demolition. “We are in contact with Dublin City Council on this matter. This could be an opportunity for the bridge to end up at the entrance to Phoenix Park.”
CIÉ published its masterplan in November 2021 and at that time intended to submit a planning application in 2023. However, this has not happened and the project is significantly behind this time frame. According to O’Connor, there is still a year until a developer is appointed to build the entire project.
“We will have a joint venture partner on the market by the end of next year and hope to have a planning application in place the following year.”
He partly blames Covid for this delay, but also cites uncertainty about the viability of housing construction.
“We believe next year is the time when we can go to market with clarity about our timelines. We will be able to tell the market exactly when the different properties can be released and we will be able to meet those schedules,” he says.
CIÉ has not “sat on our hands” in the two years since the master plan was published, he says. It has worked with the council, modeling the impacts of the development and working with the National Transport Authority on planning around the new bridges, cycle parking and riverside footpath.
“We have also done a lot of work to find alternative accommodation with the staff currently staying at the Heuston site and we have also worked to find an alternative for the bus garage on Conyngham Road,” he says .
O’Connor remains confident the project will be completed over the next decade, creating a “bookend to the city” and “a counterbalance to everything that’s happening in the Docklands”.
“It makes sense that this would be the start of your real city center, all the way to the docklands at the other end of the Liffey,” he says.
He also believes this riverside district will ultimately be “a very attractive place to live.”